Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Getting Into a Good Rut

When I was a kid I used to pray every night for some woman named Ruth. She was a missionary somewhere. I have no idea. I never met her and never heard whether she was thrown in prison or made into a village statue. I only remember having to pray and having nothing come to mind, no idea what to say to God, then squinting up at my mother as I mentioned Ruth and seeing her approving grin and nod. Victory! I'd said my prayers.

Praying the same prayers over and over is probably natural. My kids used to get into a rut in their prayers, too: “Dear God, thank you for this day. Help us to have a good day tomorrow.” That bothered me a little. But, then again, we have ritualized conversations with people, too. “Good morning. How are you? I’m fine.” With God, though, it seems we should try a little harder to come up with something new to say, or at least a new way to say it.

But sometimes I think of God like I think of the refrigerator—meaning, not at all. I don’t have to try and accept the refrigerator that sits in my kitchen humming. It’s simply there. It’s a given, like the sun coming up each morning, or the seasons winding their way around the calendar.

It may be this constancy that leads to a faith rut and a prayer lull I get into sometimes. Then again, it may be God’s fault. I mean God is the most creative being in all eternity. He made the whole world in seven days and knows everyone’s heart and loves all of us enough to send his own son to die. Maybe that’s why I get into a prayer rut, a faith stasis. I don’t know what to say to such a marvel. … “Thank you”? I do tell God that a lot.

This is about the place in my thoughts where I begin thinking that actually a habitual prayer life and constancy of faith is not all bad. My mother liked us to hold hands around the table to pray before eating. So many meals the food sat steaming in front of the five of us as we grabbed hands to pray. That’s a nice, sort of Norman Rockwell image—that’s a ritual, yes, but in a good way. That’s a ritual that reminds everyone every day about who the Giver of all life is and how we should feel before him—grateful. 

Mealtime grace, bedtime prayers, daily Bible reading—these are good habits. Funny thing is that the habitual nature of these habits may in fact be the very thing that leads me to believe I’m in a rut with my faith and my prayers. Maybe it’s like being married for a long time and one day realizing that the quick embrace just before you both part ways for the day or when you come back together in the evening is not in fact sweet affection, but a rut and you begin to think about negatively. It is a rut—but ruts can be good. They can guide you safely down a muddy road; they can show you where others have managed to go before; they can get you through another day.

Church every weekend is like that—a good rut. Except for brief intervals, I have always gone to church on Sunday. Even when we lived in Telluride, Colorado for a couple years, we managed church most weekends. If you’re not Oprah and dripping with money, you can’t actually live in the town limits. So we lived several miles up the mountain. When we could make it into town, through the eight-foot drifts of snow, over snowy roads with studded tires and down a sanded and salted hill garnished with spun out cars, we attended a small Baptist church. If we arrived late, however, it was a Pentecostal church. Both congregations shared the small building and the Baptists took the early worship slot (obviously) while the Pentecostals waited on the Spirit. While my church traditions fall more in line with Baptist traditions, my sleeping habits often left me watching grown men writhe on the floor and blabber. I would kick myself and think, “An hour earlier and we could have had a nice, tidy Baptist service, exchanged pleasantries and got on with our lives.”

See this is how I think of church sometimes—a habit. That’s probably bad. It just becomes a ritual. That’s kinda good, too. However, I have never found the Holy Spirit to be that regular.

God is both I guess—old habit and something new. The Bible says the way God thinks of us is, “…new every morning; great is your faithfulness...” (Lamentations 3:23).

These characteristics seem opposite really. How can something be new every morning and also faithful? Faithful seems like old habit; like a retriever who meets you at the door every time you get home. New every morning seems like snow that fell over night or like starting a new job every day. That would be weird—but it would be new.

Back to that part about God intimidating me to the point of speechlessness when I try to come up with a prayer. It’s not always that. To be fair, sometimes I’m just lazy. But sometimes God is overwhelmingly awesome. Even then, though, the Bible says his love for us is steady. I can’t understand that either—but it is comforting.

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,” Lamentations 3:22, “for his compassions never fail.”

“Never fail.” That’s a long habit of not failing. It’s a rut God gets into, maybe. That’s a good rut—continuous compassion. Hey, that just inspired me with a new prayer for once. "God, please help me to be more like you, having compassion that never fails." Now that’s a prayer. I might get into the habit of praying that new every morning.

Rebecca Barnes works in Kids Ministry at Flatirons and has three children of her own. Figuring out ways for all these kids to understand the love of Jesus consumes the bulk of her time. The rest is spent reading, writing, gardening and cooking.

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